How Many Pins in Bowling? All You Need to Know

Does bowling have 9 pins? Ten pins?

The answer to both of these questions is yes! There are five popular iterations of bowling, each with its own unique bowling pin setups and bowling lane specifications. Let’s take a brief look at the five bowling game styles and the various number of bowling pins for each one.

Ten-pin bowling

Ten-pin bowling is the most common form of the game and the one recognized simply as “bowling” by most major federations including the American Bowling Congress, Women’s International Bowling Congress, United States Bowling Congress, and British Tenpin Bowling Association. If you’ve ever watched a PBA Tour event, you’ve seen ten-pin bowling in action!

As you can probably tell from the name of the game, the goal of ten-pin bowling is to knock down all ten pins in each of the game’s ten frames. While ten pins are ostensibly worth ten points on a ten-pin bowling score sheet, bonus points are awarded for spares, strikes, and the number of strikes in a row a bowler fells.

A flawless game in ten-pin bowling is denoted by a 300 score. If a bowler knocks down all the pins on their first ball of a frame (except the tenth frame), the player is awarded a bonus score of the total number of pins brought down on their next two shots. If a player knocks down all the ten pins over their two allotted shots in each of the first nine frames, they are awarded a bonus of as many pins as they can knock down on their first shot of the next frame.

In the tenth frame (and last frame), a bowler can earn an extra ball and throw up to three times– either by converting a spare in the first two shots and taking their next shot or by tallying strikes in all three boxes of the score sheet.

If a player fails to knock down all ten pins in a frame, it’s considered an open frame with no scoring carryover. The number of pins knocked down is the score that is tallied.

Bowlers must be careful not to step over the foul line in front of the oily lane surface. That constitutes a foul and negates any pins knocked down during a shot. It also doesn’t pay to throw a ball straight at the headpin, as a typical house shot will guide the ball into an impact that leaves plenty of pins far away from each other (known as splits.)

Ten-pin bowling is a competitive sport and is the primary bowling center favorite around the world. Bowling leagues spring up everywhere from the United States to Southeast Asia, and the vast majority of professional bowlers consider the ten-pin game their specialty. In team games, the higher team score dictates the winner (depending on handicaps that up the maximum score possible for players of lower skill levels.)

In individual games, a player fails or succeeds on their own merit. Consecutive strikes are key and command of the different soil conditions at your local bowling alley is a must.

Nine-pin bowling

As opposed to ten-pin bowling which is an individual game that can be played in team settings, nine-pin bowling is a team game only. And while ten-pin bowling pins are set up in a triangle formation (more on that later), nine-pin bowling pins are set up in a diamond formation with the headpin leading the way.

In nine-pin bowling, players use a ball similar to a ten-pin bowling ball (with a ball drilled with holes for one’s thumb, middle, and ring fingers) and attempt to knock down eight or nine pins per turn. The pins are situated by a human pin-setter each turn.

Nine-pin bowling games are divided into six frames and have different scoring rules than ten-pin bowling. All of the pins in a nine-pin game are white except the red center pin. If all pins are knocked down in a single turn, a player scores nine points for their team. If they can knock down all the pins except the red one (known as the “redhead”), the player scores twelve points for their team.

Each pin is worth one point and a player receives two turns in a frame, even if all the pins are knocked down on a first shot.

Also known as “Kegel,” nine-pin bowling remains popular in Western Europe and areas of the South and Northeast with large German-American populations.

Five-pin bowling

A Canadian specialty, five-pin bowling starts with five pins set up in a V formation. Each pin is worth a different amount of points, with a total score of 15 points possible for each shot. Games are divided into ten frames of three shots, with the highest possible score being 450 instead of 300.

Whereas ten-pin and nine-pin bowling balls are bigger and have finger holes, five-pin bowling balls are small enough to be held in the palm of a hand and have no holes. And while the pin deck is similar to that of ten-pin bowling, five-pin bowling pins have galvanized rubber around their middle sections that make them fly farther and hit harder on impact.

A more strategic game than anything else, one pin is not the same as another in five-pin bowling. A player bowls with a different mindset than just sheer violence, attempting to maximize their scoring opportunities on each throw.

Duckpin bowling and Candlepin bowling

We’re sticking these two styles together because they’re as similar as they are different. Both duckpin bowling and candlepin bowling are regional variations of bowling popular in the areas of the Northeastern United States. Both use ten pins set up in a triangular shape and both use bowling balls without finger holes that are much smaller than the average ten-pin bowling ball.

Each game of candlepin and duckpin bowling is divided into ten pins with three turns. The goal of a single frame is to knock down all ten pins.

The differences between the two games are mostly aesthetic. Candlepin bowling pins are extremely tall and skinny, while duckpin bowling pins are short and stout. The highest points scored on record in a candlepin bowling game is 245 out of 300, while the highest recognized score in duckpin bowling is 279 out of 300.

As you can tell from the lack of perfectly 300 games, both duckpin and candlepin bowling are challenging variations of the bowling game we know and love.


Are bowling balls different for each type of bowling?

Yes! Ten-pin and nine-pin bowling balls are often made of reactive resin, polyurethane, or urethane. There are also particle balls available, but they are less popular nowadays. They are much larger than balls used in five-pin, candlepin, and duckpin bowling and have finger holes.

Five-pin, candlepin, and duckpin bowling balls are much smaller and easier to carry in the palm of your hand. They still make pins scatter like crazy, though, as the ball contacts the different pin types with the full force of a player’s arm behind it.

How are bowling pins set up in a traditional ten-pin bowling game?

Pins are set up in a triangular formation for a ten-pin bowling game. The back row has four pins, the next row has three pins, the second row has two pins, and the front pin (known as the headpin) stands alone in the first row.

The pins are numbered from 1 to 10 going left to right from front to back. When scoring a ten-pin bowling game, pins left up in split and spare formations are referred to by their numbers.

What is the most suitable kind of bowling ball for a ten-pin game?

It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. A gold medal-level bowler will likely have multiple bowling ball types in their arsenal, usually with a reactive resin bowling ball as their strike ball and a polyurethane or urethane ball as their spare option.

When players roll a certain type of ball, it usually gives them an idea of whether or not the reaction works for them. Feel free to play around with different types of ten-pin bowling balls and find what works for you!

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